Nobody wants anyone they know to end up in an abusive relationship but that is the reality for some people. About one in four women and one in six men experience domestic abuse. It is a really difficult situation to deal with and it can feel impossible to make the right decision. Here is my advice having experienced domestic abuse myself.
Know what domestic abuse is and the warning signs. You aren’t only looking for bruises. There are other behaviours that could indicate abuse. You want to know the warning signs but also the help available. Look into Refuge, Women’s Aid and other services.
Why? People in abusive relationships don’t tend to believe they are in one for a long time. Collecting warning signs will give you evidence to help them realise that they are not in a healthy relationship. If you know the services out there, you are ready to help them out of their relationship when the time comes.
After all your research, you could be convinced that someone you know is in an abusive relationship. You need to be careful about what you do with that information. Don’t bombard the person with examples of unhealthy behaviour. You cannot force someone to believe they are being abused. You cannot force someone to leave. They are being manipulated by their abuser so they have to overcome that manipulation to leave. That takes time.
You can mention your concerns but do not push them too far. That will just push them away. Whatever you do, don’t be angry at them for staying. They are dealing with enough. Their abuser is looking for ways to isolate them even further. Don’t make that easy for them.
Give them room to vent when they need to. This emotional release is needed for their mental health. Keep a list of concerning incidents and save any messages or anything digital that could corroborate it. This can be used as evidence for them and for the police if it gets that far but never pressure them to go to the police. Every individual needs to make the right decision for them.
Get professionals involved if you can
Victims need people to help them to get out of an abusive relationship. But as I said, their abuser will be doing everything they can to isolate them. You need to hold onto your friendship with them as tightly as you can. This will be difficult at times because of the behaviour of the abuser and even the victim as they are manipulated. Without any connections, they won’t have anywhere to turn to for help or anyone questioning what is happening to them.
If they can see a counsellor or some other support, that would be great. Some services offer counselling for people who are trying to get out of abusive relationships. It could be a counsellor for a different reason. Often a victim’s mental health deteriorates throughout the relationship. At university, we had wellbeing advisors. Professionals that can help them are really valuable.
They know the protocol and how to approach these kinds of situations. Also, they are another witness to what is happening which will be helpful if the authorities get involved. Obviously, this is not always possible. It depends on what the victim is comfortable with and what they can get their abuser to allow.
Don’t give up on them
It is frustrating to see someone you care about in an abusive relationship. The signs could be obvious to you. But being in that relationship is messy, manipulative and scary. Taking the step of admitting you are in an abusive relationship is hard enough. Actually leaving is even more difficult.
It’s a situation that needs to be dealt with carefully. The main thing is to never abandon them. They have probably already given up on themselves. You could be the only person reminding them that what is happening to them is wrong and they deserve better.
Don’t forget to look after yourself as well. Secondary trauma is a thing too. If you have to step away because you don’t feel safe or your mental health is suffering, do it. You need to take care of yourself to be able to look out for other people. When you can, be their safe space away from anger and control.
These are just my thoughts from my experience but I do think it is powerful for survivors to share their real experiences. I have written about this topic before when I talked about what happens when you report an abuser to the police. If I can get through it, so can you!
If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, please turn to professionals for information on your options.